This is a general note to all who’ve e mailed or otherwise contacted me about the issue of our Leaving the EU, which I’m making available to ALL my constituents via my website and Twitter accounts.
That way everyone gets the same reply, has the same knowledge of my views and the same analysis of options. I am sorry there simply isn’t enough time to answer you all individually.
Firstly thank you very much for contacting me. I’ve read all your mails, as I always do.
They divide into the following broad categories:
- Your views, without questions. These in turn generally divide into:
- MPs are a disgrace and the lot of you should be sacked since 86% were elected on manifestos to respect the Referendum but haven’t done so
- Parliament is a shambles because it can’t make its mind up and the way to solve things is for the People to decide and have a Second Referendum
- I am a disaster or a traitor either because I voted Remain and have since respected the Referendum result, but should have ‘stayed true to the cause,’ and tried to prevent Brexit: or a traitor because I have voted to leave the EU on March 29th three times, supporting the government Deal, whereas I should have supported a No Deal Brexit: or because I twice voted against the government on different procedural aspects and shouldn’t have done so: or because I didn’t support a second Referendum or Revocation of Article 50 last week (and won’t do so this week)
- The PM is a disgrace because she’s the leader who hasn’t succeeded after 3 attempts, and leaders who fail should be dismissed: and she should realise either that the people should have a second vote or that No Deal is No Problem
- The PM’s troops are a disgrace for not supporting her, especially those who think they would themselves be a better PM, because if they had showed unity we would have left already. Some of the ERG are risking Brexit altogether by voting against her
- Labour is a disgrace because Corbyn has no policy except not to have a policy: and locally Labour seem to pretend the Referendum never happened, judging from the monastic silence of its reps
I sympathise with all of these views: and perhaps especially with 1), 2), 5) and 6). It HAS been a collective failure of Parliament, and we all hold some responsibility. I am very sorry about this.
But we also mirror the divisions of the land, and the different, passionately held views both in Gloucester or elsewhere. Although some of the e mails are aggressive, few are direct personal threats, and on the doorstep my constituents are always kind, even when they disagree. Electronic communication though can be a very blunt tool, and anonymous tweets or Facebooks from obviously fake accounts don’t add anything positive to the debate - and risk putting off put off younger potential (particularly female) candidates from getting involved. But that is a different issue..
You’ll agree that there is no conceivable way of satisfying you all, whatever my views. Many believe their view is the right (if not the only) one, supported by every sensible thinking person, and definitely a majority of the nation, even where there’s little evidence for this. I keep in my mind a lot at the moment Cromwell’s words about imagining the possibility that I may be wrong..
To my most frequent flyers, who’ve sent me more than 20 variations of the same e mail since the New Year about what is needed (mostly No Deal or Second Referendum), I know exactly where you are coming from and you know my reply. Let me share the points I usually make with others:
- It is the easiest thing to urge a course of action on someone else who has responsibility for it when you don’t. After all YOU aren’t accountable. There is no shortage of armchair experts at Kingsholm when Gloucester plays: and the same is true x 100 for politics. But if the NHS, NFU, CBI, FSB, intelligence agencies, pharmaceutical association, engineering federation, automobile sector, Trade Unions, Gloucester manufacturers and traders all (pretty well unanimously) tell me that No Deal would be either a disaster or a major disaster, and in any event will lead to job losses – then just dismissing the whole lot as scaremongers doesn’t work for me. My responsibility to city and nation is a serious one.
- To those of you who continue to think that leaving on WTO terms (40% duty on lambs and 10% on cars FYI) is a piece of cake and don’t worry about tearing up our Free Trade with the EU (44% of our total exports), because we can sort that out overnight once we’ve left, I say sorry: but life is a lot more complicated than that. Do not underestimate how domestic issues like European elections influence how eg Macron would respond.
- Equally many of those who argue we should have a second referendum must come clean about their aim, as the People’s Vote now has: their goal is to overturn the first People’s Vote. I understand that many across the country voted remain and still want that view to triumph. After all Referendum votes have been overturned in Continental Europe, when Denmark, France and Ireland got the answer wrong. Why not here?
- Because the government’s advice in 2016 to every household was clear: ‘we will implement what you decide’, with no Second Referendum, no second chance and no complaining about a small winning majority. A one off decision. ALL political parties told the media that this was the case – no second go. And I take the simple view that politicians who promise such things should stick with them – which was why I accepted the result. Not Leaving the EU at this stage would, I believe, be a disaster not just both for our democracy and trust in politics but for democracy worldwide. In an exercise of direct democracy you should implement a promise to implement.
- Lastly your MPs have had several votes, so why can’t we have a second one? As above but with this comment. Your elected representatives often have many votes on the same issues. All Bills have an iterative process and go back and forth between Commons and Lords. Some votes (like abortion or assisted dying) quite frequently come back many, many times. There is nothing unusual on a controversial bill in a hung Parliament taking time and several votes. That process, even though (and perhaps because) we believe – most of the time – in the flexibility of no Constitution, should make Parliament more likely to arrive at the compromise we need. It is likely to be, as I said at the beginning of the debates, something ‘few will love, but most could live with’.
- Your views, with questions (or instructions). These in turn generally divide into:
- I don’t like the PM’s Deal: it’s a dreadful Deal and please vote against it
- I do think the government compromise is the right (or the least worst) way forward: do support it
- Why did you vote in favour of none of the indicative motions last week?
- This is how I would like you to vote next week – will you?
- Obviously I most sympathise with 2) and especially do not agree with 1). This assertion usually comes short of evidence about why it is so bad, perhaps because there isn’t much. Of course if you want No Deal or No Brexit there are flaws with any Deal.
- On 3) I voted last week against the options at the two margins ie No Deal and Revocation (No Brexit), and did not vote at all on the options for EAA/ EFTA (Europe 2.0 or what was called Norway +) plus the Customs Union (CU) or the CU alone. (The latter was only 6 votes off having a positive vote and a second referendum only 29 votes off). My reason was simple: I wanted to vote positively for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill the following day, and didn’t want to help another (weaker) option to be seen as a better solution.
- Monday will be different: we have to find another solution if those who voted against the WAB would do the same again. So I will look closely at the options the Speaker selects, and will probably support the Deal plus a Customs Union as the quickest and most trouble free solution. Why?
- Because staying in the CU resolves at one stroke the Northern Ireland issue: enables us to leave the EU’s political direction, its fishing and agricultural policies, its Freedom of Movement and most annual payments. It would prevent us from having our own trade deals: but this is not an area of easy wins – the big potential Free Trade Agreements (US, China and India) would be fraught with difficulties for UK negotiations, and Free Trade with the EU is an important and underestimated export market (146,000 UK companies export only to the EU).
- Of course I would rather a Customs partnership, that has those benefits but only ties us to the rules of goods and agriculture, not for services where our regulators would like more flexibility to have different rules on some things. This should enable us to pursue our Trade Deals as well as maintain frictionless trade with the EU. But if Parliament won’t support the Deal or Bill then we have to find the next least worst option. Which for me is the CU. The EEA means losing control of freedom of movement, mostly being a rule taker (though not Fish and Agr) and paying a biggish sub.
- Some colleagues continue to vote against the WAB because they want No Deal and believe this helps their goal. They vote alongside Jeremy Corbyn, who does so because he wants No 10, and believes this helps his goal. It is impossible for both to be right. In my view the ERG has got this badly wrong, and further failure by Parliament this week to coalesce on a solution risks bringing the decision back to the people – either through another Referendum or a General Election. Who knows what would then happen to Brexit.
- I don’t think many people want either a Referendum or a Revocation: they just want decisions made and Brexit delivered, by and large. I don’t think a Second Referendum would help anything. Doubtless, it would, like the Second Civil War, be even more divisive and bloody than the first. The Second Civil War achieved nothing then, and I’m not sure a Second Referendum would now). Prof Sir John Curtice (most respected academic pollster) has said that his analysis shows people wouldn’t vote much different to how they did last time.
- Some of you have e mailed me a further round robin survey, from a socialist lobbying company, asking you to decide how you would vote on Monday, and tell me to take account of it. The problems with this are:
- Some of these quasi instructions arrive after the vote (as they did last week): some are views on options not chosen by the Speaker on the day: why should 70 odd such instructions have any more sway than the 87,000 who do not instruct me how to vote: and what does this say about representative democracy – in which your MP should make up his or her mind on what is best for their constituency, clean of lobbyists. So I would encourage any subscribers to urge their lobbyist group to consider whether the effect of looking like telling me how to vote might be negative.. But you know that I will not be supporting No Deal, No Brexit or a Second Referendum: and I would take a lot of persuading to support Norway+
- Whatever the future agreement with the EU on eg Trade or Customs, it needs first a ratified agreement on the WAB (and then the EU Parliament) for the Second Phase. Even No Deal wouldn’t last long without sorting that out. And that is what I hope we achieve this week. There is no excuse at all for Labour not to support it: not a single comma in it anywhere their front bench disagrees with. And if all of the ERG wants Brexit, it needs to get a lot less fussy about what type of Brexit. Leave Director Dominic Cummings said this week ERG were ‘useful idiots’ for Corbyn and his plans for a radical Marxist inspired government. Each MP must use our judgement carefully.
- In the Civil War key ingredients in that disaster were mission creep, unintended consequences, a failure to think strategically about the outcome and many of the participants overplaying their hands. All featured in the failed negotiations between King, Army and Parliament – and the radicals drove forward the execution of the King, did away with the Lords, expelled the Commons and installed Cromwell as Lord Protector. A far cry from the banners of ‘For King and Parliament’ a handful of MPs started with. Likewise there was NO mention of No Deal in Vote Leave literature before the Referendum, and its leadership was always clear about leaving in an orderly way. WE should continue to work to leave responsibly.
- So let’s surprise ourselves, the country and the EU: get the WAB through, get EU agreement to allow us to leave on May 22nd ie before European elections and then let’s make sure we get the legislation through in time (probably using an extra week from the Easter recess). It’s possible, if everyone puts aside party and personal ambitions..
- If Parliament fails again our reputation, already tattered, will weaken further. For the mother of Parliaments, in a world where authoritarian leadership is growing in popularity, that would not be a good sign.
After twenty years of Civil War, disease and quasi dictatorship 20% of the male population 14-45 was dead (a higher % than WW1), and families all around the country ruined. Not long after the Restoration, in 1662, the Earl of Berkshire wrote: “We will none of us with satisfaction be able to explain what it was we fought over all those long years”.
Pray we can bring these disagreements to a close, on at least Phase 1, sooner rather than later.
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